Making better places
By Michelle Washington - The Virginian Pilot
Ask Abdul Aswad how many kids he has, and he pauses.
Let's start with biological. Two, a grown son and daughter, and three grandchildren.
Now the real tallying starts.
"Currently I have 15 that come and go from around the neighborhood," Aswad said. Add in those who participate in the youth program he helped found, and the number grows to the hundreds.
Last week, WHRO public radio honored that charity, Children of the Sun, with a Community Impact Award for Regionalism.
Children of the Sun provides athletic activities, mentoring and job training, and along the way offers disguised lessons in teamwork, discipline, respect, work ethic and pride.
Aswad absorbed those teachings from his parents. His mother, now 83, continues her lifelong community activism, serving as a block captain for Green Hill Farms off Tidewater Drive. He adopted his father's ability to connect with his neighbors and the flock of his Baptist church, where he was a minister.
During a fish fry Aswad hosted back in the 1980s, he and others in his neighborhood talked about what they could do to help the kids there. One community group had started a football team, the Shoop Park Cowboys. But the team did not have spaces for all the kids who tried out. Aswad had played soccer during his time in the Air Force, so that game seemed like a good supplement.
Seventeen kids joined that first year, in 1984. By the next year 50 had signed up. In three years, Aswad had several boys and girls teams. Now, Children of the Sun hosts an annual youth conference of 500 kids or more.
Aswad deflects credit for the group's success and points to a host of other community organizations that have helped him and Children of the Sun.
While he studied for a master's degree in urban affairs, he spent an internship interviewing prisoners. "I asked them what they would do differently if they could do it over again. They wanted someone to listen."
"So what I do is try to listen."
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